I’ve had a few less than perfect haircuts recently, nothing you as an observer would probably notice, but it affects my confidence. I have come out of these situations feeling a bit angry with the person responsible for cutting my hair and disappointed in how they have performed.
So there I am, in the hair dressers chair again, and I am reflecting on how I could take responsibility for what had been going wrong, and get the kind of outcome I want; a great haircut. Perhaps I have had some part to play in a poor outcome. The first point of self-awareness comes when I realise that I am not always 100% straight and clear about what I want when I am describing how I want the hair cut.
This is because I realise that the truth is I am nervous that other men in the barbers shop will hear what I am saying and secretly laugh at me inside their heads, as surely no proper masculine man worth his salt would really care that much about the way that they look? And have the nerve to talk about it so openly in front of a bunch of men? I understand that actually I am not having the courage to describe clearly and in detail exactly what it is I am looking for in the hair cut, being precise about the exact outcome I am expecting and painting a vivid picture in detail, and then checking back that my understanding is the same as theirs.
I am not having the confidence to say what I want and be clear about it; I am worried about what people might think and what kind of person that makes me. As I am sat there I am reminded of the conversations I have with managers and sometimes their own fear of being clear in what they want from their teams. I think they are worried about setting out very clearly what they want and what they expect, and this is what I observe when I see them with their teams.
“I’d like it to really go out at the top of the head on the sides”, I say, “to make a sort of a triangle shape; I think it suits the shape of my face better” I say. No one in the shop laughs at me. Actually, I feel very pleased with myself. I feel sort of bigger and stronger. In fact, I have become so concerned about getting this to be clear, I say it twice. The girl is great at her job. She repeats back what it is I am saying and I know she has understood what it is I want. I am delighted inside, I know she has heard and listened and this is the first step. This is all going rather well.
She starts to cut my hair and I am relaxed. At least, I think I am relaxed until I notice that my hands are clasped incredibly tightly together and they become a little sore as I unclench them and the pressure in my knuckles is released. I have been clasping them very tightly due to my nervousness of how my hair cut will turn out. It turns out I haven’t been relaxed at all. In fact I have been very anxious about how it will turn out and the prospect of more weeks of misery as I wait for my hair to grow back.
I realise that this isn’t helping the situation; I am not helping the situation. I think at some level if I am tense and anxious she will pick up on this and it will affect her performance. If I am tense she will be distracted about my reactions, and will not focus so clearly on the task. So I decide to trust. To let go of the idea that I have much control now over the outcome. I realise I don’t have much control now anyway in truth. What I can focus on now is deciding to trust her in the task in hand. She is a professional after all. I make sure that I don’t look at my hair in the mirror at any stage to give her the message that I am confident about what she is doing. This is something productive that I can focus on rather than my worry.
“Are you out for lunch?” she says. I am wearing a suit. “Yes” I say happily. It’s a good exchange of pleasantries. But suddenly things take a turn for the worse, I am aware she seems to be cutting my hair quite fast. This makes me nervous. Why is she doing that? I think. Oh no, this could be going wrong, I think. Suddenly I understand the reason why. “She wants to cut it quickly so I can get back to the office quickly” I realise. I don’t mind about this I think loudly and urgently inside my head, I would rather you cut carefully and it was a good cut I think. But am I going to do? What can I do? I might be making an assumption and embarrass her and make myself look silly if I say anything. I am racking my brains.
I know I am making assumptions but I am worried about the performance I am getting. Suddenly as she is looking closely at my hair as she cuts I hit up on the answer. “I love the way you are really paying attention to the detail in the cut” I say. And I make sure I look her in the eye as I say it – so that she knows I mean it. This seems to have hugely dramatic and positive effect. I kid you not. She then spends perhaps the next 30 minutes, an inordinate amount of time it seems, on the tiniest movements and motions. I can’t believe the amount of detail she is going into; I am delighted. She uses at least seven different tools to do various little jobs around my head and I am thrilled. It seems that positively affirming what I really like in her behaviour really does produce her to do more of the same.
It’s a great cut, and I am very pleased. As I go I tell her that, with real feeling. It’s been an emotional experience for me. And I think she is pleased too.
Of course, I might have been over estimating the impact that I think had on the cut. She might have just been brilliant at her job. But it did make me think about some of the challenges of managing people:
- Having the courage to be clear about what you want can be hard. It doesn’t make you a bad person. People like to do well and knowing what well is, is important
- Letting go of control can be hard. But holding the reins tightly won’t make them perform better. The more you trust, the more responsibility people tend to take. Trust implies confidence. Confidence drives performance.
- Acknowledge and affirm the behaviour you want to see more of. People like to be told they are doing something well.